Thursday, January 1, 2015

Piketty and the Pope: Oddball Notes that Didn't Fit Anywhere

Did anyone notice way back in April, that the Statesman Journal actually published a review of Thomas Piketty's book, Capital in the Twenty-First Century?

A rare kind of book review
How often do we get reviews of serious intellectual works in the paper here in Salem?

All the Nobel Economists were talking about it! Robert Solow (1987 Nobel) said "Thomas Piketty Is Right" and Paul Krugman (2008 Nobel) explained "Why We're in a New Gilded Age."

There was lots more. It was a big deal. Just the other day, Slate said, "Thomas Piketty Won 2014."

"Honest Money" circa 1896
Dollar Mark Hanna on Wall Street
by Silverton's Homer Davenport
The Gilded Age is of special interest here because it - somewhat coincidentally, but not entirely - coincides with the rise of the bicycle and in its late phase with unwinding the Panic of 1893 and the first bike boom.  And then it transitioned into what we know as the "Progressive Era," with the flowering and decline of streetcars and the beginnings of Autoism.

Though in some ways it is but a footnote, it is telling, also, that in the background of the Davenport cartoon above, the lynched figures represent people who would never have been lynched in real life: the reality behind the symbol has been erased.

Increasingly, people are bringing the reality into the foreground. With new books in the news like The Empire of Cotton and The Half has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism, and the nation-wide attention to the untimely deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Gardner, we are looking more and more at our legacy of slavery, Jim Crow, and ways our current systems and institutions remain unjust.

That was 2014.

Maybe 2015 will bring a larger examination of a different set of systems and institutions and look at the ways we do or do not morally assess systems properly, systems and institutions where individual agency is not always so clearly analyzed or considered and might not even be the best thing to analyze.

Pope Francis on the Environment

The thing outside of Salem I am most looking forward to in 2015 is what looks like a forthcoming Encyclical by Pope Francis on the Environment and Climate Change.

Catholics await an Encyclical on the Environment
From the National Catholic Reporter:
Catholics working on environmental issues and climate change in the U.S. are eagerly awaiting the encyclical and have spent much of the last year preparing for it.

"There's never been an encyclical just on the environment. It's clear something like this is needed to move, especially policymakers, but even the church," said Dan Misleh, executive director of the Catholic Climate Covenant.

"I've always said we need to recover ancient traditions that we've always had but we just forgot. About how we're supposed to care for creation. About how St. Francis said it's all kin, we're all connected together somehow. 'Brother Sun, Sister Moon,'" he said.
You might remember Barbara Rossing's talks at St. Mark's on climate change. It would be great if the encyclical also changed the way we talk about and debate climate change and the way it impacts our current systems and institutions in 2015: Maybe in a year writers and critics will be able to say, "Pope Francis won 2015."

You don't have to be Catholic to think that could be a very fine thing.

Meanwhile, in Salem

So can we bring this back to Salem?

Maybe we can.

Over at N3B, their year-end review prompted an interesting exchange, and a supporter of the bridge writes:
I hope to see all of the same folks in this picture protesting the next housing development to be built on the West side of the river...the population on this side of the river continues to grow and whether you like it or not, another bridge will have to be built so why not be part of the solution.
And this is an important point.

If we are serious about transportation constraints across the river, we need to think seriously about whether we want policies that promote further growth in West Salem. We can either have real system development charges and tolls that properly incorporate costs so they are not externalized, hidden, and shunted off to others by means of indirect subsidies; or, if we aren't willing to use market forces, by regulations and zoning we can start curbing growth in West Salem and redirecting it to more walkable and more centrally located places. Either way, if we really think that connections across the river are constrained, then it follows that growth fits better in places other than West Salem, and we should want policies consistent with this.

The bridge debate isn't just about an expensive piece of infrastructure. It's about systems and land-use also.

Similarly, over at On the Way, Bonnie Hull writes about Howard Hall and the Blind School in "Another Hospital Disaster...Urban Logging."

Way more parking lot than building
Though our emotions might be more engaged by the loss of venerable trees and squirrel habitat, the nub of the matter is parking, Salem's ferocious appetite for free parking. While some demolitions here happen for new construction, the bulk of bulldozed buildings in Salem yield surface parking lots - voids in the urban fabric.

In fact, the problems at the Blind School rhyme in many ways with the problems downtown.

If the Hospital saw an easy path to charging for visitor parking and for employee permits, they would have a much easier time redeploying buildings and letting more tree, grass, and landscape remain.

Maybe 2015 can be a year when we connect more of the dots and think more about systems, and not just the component and atomic units in isolation. Sometimes in order to break down a complex problem, you have to think of its atomic parts; but other times, that atomic scale hides the real problem and real solutions.


Susann Kaltwasser said...

What West Salem needs is a new commercial zone that allows citizens to walk to stores and shops. Limiting residential development is not realistic, but creating zones that allow for less use of cars to reach services is very doable. What it takes is an enlightened Planning Commission and some visionary developers. The EOA/Housing committee could be a resource, but I am not sure that the staff is leading them in the right direction. What Salem lacks is true comprehensive planning and true leadership.

Jim Scheppke said...

At the first work session the Salem City Council held on the 3rd Bridge way back in 2012, the City Public Works director stated that a primary purpose of building a 3rd Bridge was to encourage NW Salem to build out to the UGB so that the City could collect more property tax revenue for the General Fund. I believe this still may be the thinking at City Hall. They are still of the mindset that suburban sprawl pays for itself and then some. Not true.

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

Very interesting, Jim! Do any of the flip charts the City has posted exactly address this? If not, do you have additional documents that show this explicitly?

In any case, that's a straight-up expression of what Charles Marohn calls "the growth ponzi scheme."

Susann, I think that was the intent of the now-dormant NCMU zone. Additionally, the stuff on Edgewater is trying to go there as well. But neither have seemed strong enough to prompt much in the way of actual change.

Susann Kaltwasser said...

Unfortunately the property that the NCMU development was being proposed on is way too small for a business or businesses that could do any good. The best it might get is a convenience store and a few offices. We need something like a Fred Meyer to do any real good. But the available land is quickly disappearing on Doaks Ferry where it makes the most sense.

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

Ah, I see. Yes, you are right, the NCMU is not scaled for a Fred's or something similar.

The West Salem Gateway study (summarized in this document) called for "a large parcel [at Edgewater and Wallace in the industrial area] for a commercial development of 100,000 to 140,000 square feet, specifically for a general merchandiser."

I think the planning intent has been to put it lower down as an anchor to more walkable/transit oriented kinds of development, as opposed to up in the hills where it would remain very car-dependent.

Susann Kaltwasser said...

Continued bad thought process. People can walk around these hills, but should not and cannot be expected to walk 2 and a half miles down hill and then 2 and a half miles uphill with our goods. This plan ensures that everyone who does not live on the flats MUST drive. It also ensures that congestion on Wallace Road and Edgewater will remain a bottleneck. These plans are either constructed by people who live on the flat, or do not live in West Salem.

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

Well, we disagree somewhat here. I think there are a lot of trade-offs you may not be considering sufficiently.

In a nutshell, it would be a lot harder to make the hills walkable than to leverage the already walkable nature of the flats.

Just plopping a Fred Meyer or other shopping center in the hills would not make them walkable.

Many of the reasons Cherriots abandoned service in the hills are the same reasons not to put a shopping center in the hills.The street network isn't always connected densely enough, the distances between destinations are large, and there's the fact of the hills and slopes themselves.

By putting a Fred's in the flats, the expectation is not that people would hike 2 or 3 miles from the hills for groceries. They would still be expected to drive.

The hope is that higher density apartments and condos would fill in and that meaningful numbers of people would be able to walk 1/4 mile or bike a mile or take a bus for groceries.

In many ways it is reasonable basically to give up on the hills, leaving them car-dependent, and to shift more new development to the close-in flats, which can be walkable. So even though you are derisive about the conclusion, I think you have this part mostly right: "This plan ensure that everyone who does not live on the flats must drive."

Only from here that looks like feature rather than a bug.

Susann Kaltwasser said...

I assume that you, SBB, do not live in West Salem. I am surprised myself by how many people here actually do walk. Few ride bikes I have noticed as the hills are so steep that going down on a bike is dangerous and going up is basically hauling dead weight, but people do walk the hills here.

That aside, I do not deny that with a shopping center on Doaks Ferry will still mean that the majority of people would drive. I just contend that driving to some place closer is better than driving further and especially when it is to a congested area like Wallace Road. The closest Fred Meyer type store is about 5 1/2 miles. Driving a mile or two would be some much less polluting than it is now

Also, the current zoning is not in place to put higher density in the Doaks Ferry area either. It is all down on Wallace Road. That is rediculous. The better strategy is to scatter apartments around the area and not to make it a series of clustered apartments along major arterials. The strategy has been used in areas like Lancaster for decades and still people do not walk, because the major arterials are too dangerous for bikes or walkers. Crossings are too few and far between in order to keep the traffic flow moving along at a quick pace.

While the idea is that people will get on a bus or walk is logical in theory, it is not what happens in practice.

I contend that we need to be realistic. Doing the same thing that we know is not working in the hopes that some day it will work, is just foolish.

Unless you get densities like we see in NY City where cars are way too expensive and shops can be sustained on the basis of the people from a few surrounding blocks, we are not going to get West Salem (or any part of Salem for that matter) turned into a place where a significant number of people walk or bike or even ride the bus....flat land or hilly.

I lived near Lancaster Drive for 30 years. I know the mentality of people. They will not walk if they have a choice and will not take a bus if they can avoid it. They will get in their cars where they feel safer and have more options for where to go and how to get their goods home.

The thing that is good about Lancaster is that you don't have to drive that far to get what you need. In West Salem you have to go up to 2 1/2 miles just to get a loaf of bread. It encourages waste and it contributes to congestion.

You rail all the time about how major arterials are barriers to walking and biking and yet you seem to suggest that it is a good idea once again to build housing in such a way that they become wider and less hospitable. I don't get it.

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

Ah, you are right to point out that by saying "the flats" I may not sufficiently distinguish between Wallace and Edgewater.

It's the Edgewater/Second Street area that really has the potential, not Wallace. You are right to point out how awful is Wallace for walking and biking.

I am thinking of the neo-main-street and mixed use concepts in the Edgewater/Second Street Action Plan and the older, streetcar-era grid nearby. (As much as I am loathe to admit it, if Marine Drive gets going, and can be configured not as an expressway but as a more local kind of street, with good apartment design and such there is also the possibility to make lemonade out of that lemon. But Wallace itself is just a lemon.)

If portions of Doaks Ferry could be upzoned and apartments scattered, that would be an improvement as you suggest - but the larger point here is that we should want to taper growth in West Salem because of the topographical constraints. If we have to put in new apartments in the hills in order to justify a new Fred Meyer there - we've failed in an important way.

Redundancy is an important part of transportation networks. In West Salem we cannot have that redundancy - not at a billion dollars, anyway. For this reason alone, scattering development around West Salem is a bad idea: We should try to reduce development in West Salem, not because development is bad, but because uniquely in Salem, development in West Salem creates too many additional costs related to the near-impossibility of redundancy.

As for the way you cite NYC, you should consider the close-in neighborhoods of Portland. These do not have anything near the densities of NYC, but along the old streetcar lines, they do have commercial clusters and support 10, 20, 30% bike/walk traveling rates, not to mention very high transit rates. Something like that is possible along Edgewater, Broadway/High Street NE, State Street - basically, anywhere where the street grid circa 1920 remains, there are real possibilities. You may underestimate the opportunities here in places like this, especially with your ideas about scattering density.

This is one reason the north campus of OSH is so important. It is there, and not in the west Salem hills, where we should want chunks of Salem's growth. Doing the Blind School as a parking lot rather than a mixed-use project was a real missed opportunity, one that in 25 years will look like a big mistake. Even though it is agonizingly slow, Fairview is headed down a much better path. Hopefully north downtown and the north waterfront will be fruitful, building off eventual success at Fairview rather than off of ornamental emptiness or parking lot at the Blind School.